12 June 1599: Opening Day at Shakespeare's Globe
Sohmer, Steve. "12 June 1599: Opening Day at Shakespeare's Globe." Early Modern Literary Studies 3.1 (1997): 1.1-46 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/03-1/sohmjuli.html>.
- The scheduled opening on 12 June 1997 of a new Globe theater, the third of that name to occupy the Bankside south of the River Thames, provides an apt occasion to revisit two questions which centuries of Shakespeare scholarship have failed to resolve. The first is the date of the debut of Shakespeare's original playhouse, a topic upon which scholars since at least the time of Edmond Malone have speculated inconclusively. The second question is the identity of the play chosen from the repertory, or newly written, for the Globe's debut. In this paper I suggest that these two questions may be closely linked, and that addressing them in tandem may prove illuminating.
- After reviewing the received facts of the chronology of the Globe's construction, I present documentary evidence about early London playhouses which tends to narrow the window of dates for the Globe's premiere to the interval 3 June-5 September 1599. I then identify certain tendencies in the matching of plays with playing-dates in the early seventeenth century, and suggest that the Lord Chamberlain's Men followed these customs when they selected the opening day and premiere play for their new theater. I make the modest assumption that the Globe's opening day and premiere play were not chosen at random.
- After considering dates in the summer of 1599 which would have been recognized as propitious or significant by knowledgeable Elizabethans, I present a range of historical, astronomical, astrological, calendrical, and hydrological data which draw attention to the date of the Summer Solstice, 12 June 1599 by the then-prevailing English Julian calendar. On the basis of these analyses, and the evidence that Shakespeare's Globe is believed to have been orientated toward the rising point of the sun on the Summer Solstice, I suggest this date as opening day at the Globe. Turning to the question of the play chosen or purpose-written for the theater's debut, I briefly consider the claims of Henry V and As You Like It before taking up the late Arthur Humphreys' suggestion that Julius Caesar might have been "one of the new theater's first productions, perhaps composed for its opening" (Humphreys 1). By identifying previously unrecognized allusions in the text of Julius Caesar to specific dates in Midsummer, I conclude that Humphreys was correct, and propose that Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was indeed written to open the new Globe playhouse on 12 June 1599 Julian.
In Search of Opening Day
- The publication of the contract for the Fortune playhouse in 1821 established the year of construction of the Globe as 1599 (Malone 3:338-9). In 1871 J.O. Halliwell-Phillipps began publishing his research into certain law suits surrounding the demolition of James Burbage's old Theatre in Finsbury Fields. In 1576 that carpenter-turned-impresario had signed a ground lease with Giles Allen which permitted the lessee at the conclusion of its twenty-one year term to "take down the buildings he might erect" on the property (Halliwell-Phillipps 348). The Theatre was closed after the Isle of Dogs scandal in July 1597, its lease expired, and the old playhouse was probably never reopened (Chambers 2:397). While Cuthbert Burbage attempted to negotiate a new lease, the Chamberlain's Men rented and played at The Curtain. When Burbage could not effect satisfactory terms, in the winter of 1598 he engaged Peter Street to dismantle and remove the playhouse structure, as provided in the lease of 1576. Allen brought suit alleging that on the night of 28 December 1598, Burbage, Peter Street, and certain others did "repayre unto the sayd Theater And then and there attempted to pull downe the sayd Theater." Despite resistance by Allen's adherents, the kidnappers were successful and carted "all the wood and timber therof unto the Banckside in the parishe of St. Marye Overyes, and there erected a newe playehowse with the sayd timber and woode" (Halliwell-Phillipps 361). Allen subsequently brought a second action against Street for trespass and ground damage on 20 January 1599. This suggests the removal of the timbers was not completed until at least that date (Halliwell-Phillipps 351).
- In 1909 another series of documents related to the Globe came to light. In the German-language journal of English philology, Anglia, Gustav Binz published excerpts from a traveller's account of a visit to England in 1599. Thomas Platter (b.1574), a Swiss of the canton of Basle, wrote
Den 21 Septembris nach dem Imbissessen, etwan umb zwey uhren, bin ich mitt meiner geselschaft über daz wasser gefahren, habin in dem streüwinen Dachhaus die Tragedy vom ersten Keyer Julio Caesare mit ohngefahr 15 personen sehen gar artlich agieren . . . (Binz 458).
On 21 September after lunch, about two o'clock, I and my party crossed the water, and there in the house with the thatched roof witnessed an excellent performance of the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius Caesar with a cast of some fifteen people . . . (Schanzer 466-7).
If Platter is describing a performance at the Globe of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, this evidence marks 21 September 1599 as the latest date on which the theater could have opened.
- In October 1909 and April-May 1914, C.W. Wallace published documents which gave fresh insights into the removal of the Theatre timbers to the Bankside. In connection with a litigation brought in 1613 by Thomasina, widow of Globe sharer William Osteler, solicitors recapitulated the terms of the original ground lease (Wallace 2 October). This document was executed by landlord Nicholas Brend and "Cutherbert Burbage and Richard Burbage, as half lessees, and William Shakespeare, John Hemynges, Augustine Phillipps, Thomas Pope, and William Kempe, as lessees of the other half" (Wallace 30 April). The indenture was dated 21 February 1599, but included a retrospective right of occupancy to 25 December 1598. This detail suggests that the sharers accomplished the relocation of their playhouse with discretion and prudence. First, they reached conditional terms with their prospective new landlord on or about 25 December 1598. Only then did they attempt to take down the Theatre on 28 December. And only after Peter Street's foray of 20 January 1599 completed the extraction did the sharers sign the new lease on 21 February. The lease date perhaps sets a terminus a quo for the construction of the Globe. Wallace believed he could determine a terminus ad quem from documentary evidence of a post mortem inquisition on the estate of the lessor's father, Thomas Brend, held on 16 May 1599. This cited the deceased's interest in "una Domo de novo edificata cum gardino eidem pertinenti . . . in occupacione Willielmi Shakespeare et aliorum" (Wallace 1 May). On this evidence Wallace concluded:
There has been much speculation as to when the Globe was completed, and certain plays have been variously dated upon hypothetical conclusions about it. [The Brend testament] is the only known record to declare a definite date. The Globe was . . . finished before May 16, 1599 (Wallace 1 May).
Early twentieth-century commentators, including the great T.W. Baldwin, accepted this assertion (451). But his contemporary Joseph Quincy Adams was more circumspect, and believed "the words used [in the testament] seem hardly to warrant the conclusion" (249). Cooper's Thesaurus, the standard Latin-English glossary in Shakespeare's time, defines occupatio broadly as "holdyng or possessyng a place," which does not necessarily imply the conduct of commerce. There is also a practical difficulty with the 16 May date. If the prudent Globe sharers commenced construction after their ground lease was signed on 21 February, the interval to 16 May was only twelve weeks. In 1923, E.K. Chambers speculated that construction of the Globe had required 28 weeks (Chambers 2:415-34). He based this estimate on the contract for the Fortune theater erected in 1600 by Peter Street for Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn (J.C. Adams 404-7). The Fortune contract calls for the new theater to mimic the Globe in many respects. Since Street bound himself to erect the Fortune in 28 weeks, Chambers inferred the builder required a comparable period (196 days) to erect the Globe. If construction of the new Globe began on 21 February and required 196 days, the theater would have been completed by 5 September. This is compatible with Platter's memoir.
- However, other evidence suggests Chambers' inference is not safe, and the Globe may have been erected in fewer than 196 days. Although the design of the Fortune partially mimicked the Globe, the latter's construction differed radically in a time-intensive respect. The Globe was built from the existing, pre-cut timbers of the old Theatre which were apparently in situ on the Bankside when the lease was signed. How much time in-situ pre-cut timbers might have saved the Globe's constructors is not entirely a matter of conjecture. We know it required 136 days to cut, saw, and deliver the timbers for the Fortune (Orrell, Building 127-144 and Architecture 15-17). We also have a contract for another theater built with on-site, pre-cut timbers: the Hope, erected in 1613 by Gilbert Katherens for Henslowe and Jacob Meade (J.C. Adams 408-11). By the terms of the Hope contract dated 29 August, Katherens is first required to tear down an old bear-baiting house. Then he may utilize "all the tymber benches seates, slates, tyles, Brickes" from the old structure, plus a quantity of pre-cut boards from a house which Henslowe had previously bought and torn down (J.C. Adams 410). Katherens agreed to have the new playhouse ready "bothe for players to playe in, and for the game of Beares and Bulls to be bayted" by 30 November. That is, it was to be ready for use 102 days after the contract date. If the time required for construction of the Globe was 102 days, and if the construction commenced upon the signing of the ground lease on 21 February, the Globe would have been substantially complete by Friday 3 June. This analysis gives us a realistic schedule for the completion of the Globe, and a high probability that opening day fell between 3 June and 5 September 1599.
- Our inference that the Globe opened between 3 June and 5 September is supported by a silent witness. Shakespeare's new theater had two established rivals nearby, the Rose (1587) and Swan (1595). Thanks to the survival of Henslowe's diary, we have fragmentary accounts of the impresario's share of the receipts from the Rose "gallereys" for the period 1598-1600. According to these records, a sharp drop in Henslowe's weekly takings occurred after 3 June 1599 (Greg 2:91 48v). In prior years and in the spring of 1599, his net (reckoned on Sundays) averages above 9£10. However, after 3 June 1599 Henslowe's weekly earnings at the Rose drop precipitously. Of the succeeding 39 entries only three exceed 9£10. The sharp drop in Henslowe's weekly shares could be due to a number of factors. But it is compatible with the arrival of a competitor.  What is certain is that by the time 1599 ended, Henslowe and Alleyn had decided to decamp from the Rose. In 1600 they followed their new Fortune to the Cripplegate district of north London, the sector of the city previously occupied by Burbage's Theatre.
Matching Plays to Playing-Dates
- This essay assumes the Globe's opening day and premiere play were not chosen at random. But have we any evidence that Shakespeare's company's match of plays and dates was ever anything but random? While the company acted on hundreds of occasions, we have only a few reliable performance dates during Shakespeare's lifetime. In a prior issue of EMLS ( 2.1 April 1996) I suggested that, on certain occasions, the sharers must have consulted the church calendar or an almanac when they chose a play for a playing-date. We know the company played Henry VIII--a play concerned with that monarch's historic break with the church of Rome--on the feast of the pope, Saint Peter's Day, 29 June 1613. This ironic match of play-and-date suggests that spoofing old holy days may have been acceptable within limitation. King James once encouraged the troupe to match a play to a date. On Shrove Sunday 1605, the company performed The Merchant of Venice for James. Merchant contains episodes of masquing which the king apparently recognized as Shrovetide revels. He commanded a reprise two nights later on Shrove Tuesday (Kernan 70). The company also performed Twelfth Night at the Middle Temple on 2 February 1602 (Donno 1). In this play "Madonna" Olivia attempts to seduce a cross-dressed virgin, Viola-Cesario. February 2 is Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the original Madonna. This ironic match of play-with-date could hardly have been overlooked by the rowdy young barristers of the Virgin Queen.
- In A Midsummer Night's Dream Shakespeare spoofed the way an almanac--and a June moon--can compel a playwright to reshape his text to accommodate a playing-date. As Peter Quince and the Mechanicals set about determining the characters required to perform his play, this dialogue ensues:
Snout: Doth the moon shine that night we play our play?
Bottom: A calendar, a calendar--look in the almanac, find out moonshine, find out moonshine.
Quince: Yes, it doth shine that night (3.1.48-51).
Robin Starvling is delegated to present Moon, and the playtext must be rewritten to accommodate the presence of Moon (5.1.239 and 252-4).
- The evidence that the Lord Chamberlain's/King's Men matched plays-to-dates with conscious irony--and Shakespeare's gentle spoof of a rewrite for the sake of a June moon--are strikingly consistent with Thomas Platter's report of a performance of Julius Caesar on 21 September 1599, the official date of the Autumnal Equinox. However, before examining the ironic connection between Shakespeare's Roman tragedy and the Equinox, it will be useful to consider the claims of Shakespeare's two other plays thought to have been written circa 1599 as the Globe's premiere play: As You Like It and Henry V.
- Andrew Gurr neatly summarized the present view of Henry V as a candidate for the Globe's first play:
The Chorus, with its emphatic display of modesty about the capacity of the playhouse "cockpit" to show the "vasty fields of France", has prompted a lot of speculation about the date of the play's first performance and which playhouse it was written for. If early in 1599, the Prologue's "wooden O" must have been the Curtain, which Shakespeare's company used while they waited for the Globe to be built. If later in 1599, it could have been the new Globe. The Chorus is either being modest about an inferior old playhouse, built as long ago as 1577, or mock-modest about the grand new Globe playhouse (Gurr Henry V 6).
Although the argument that Shakespeare was being mock-modest about the new Globe has its charm, the stronger logic identifies the "cockpit" with the old Curtain playhouse where the Chamberlain's Men may have performed from October 1597 to June 1599. An early date for the play is also entailed by the speech in which the Chorus appears to analogize the triumphal entry of Henry V into London on 16 October 1416 with the anticipated return of a victorious Earl of Essex from Ireland:
The mayor and all his brethren in best sort,
Like to the senators of th'antique Rome,
With the plebeians swarming at their heels,
Go forth and fetch their conquering Caesar in-
As, by a lower but by loving likelihood
Were now the general of our gracious empress,
(As in good time he may) from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
How many would the peaceful city quit
To welcome him? (5.0.25-34)
Essex had been dispatched to the Irish wars on 27 March 1599. He returned in disarray on 28 September and was placed under house arrest. If "the general" referred to in these verses is indeed Essex, Shakespeare's encomium would have been most appropriate at the time of Essex's departure and shortly thereafter. Within weeks of Essex's arrival in Ireland reports of his lack of progress against the Irish rebels began filtering back to London. "As early as June it had become evident that Essex could not possibly win a decisive victory . . ." (Kay 244). This tends to suggest Henry V was played between the reopening of the theaters after Easter (8 April) and the end of May, which places the play at the Curtain. Other matters concerning censorship and the Earl of Essex arose in the Spring of 1599 which tend to suggest that Chorus' verses were composed early in 1599, and push the playing-dates of Henry V to the early weeks of the April-May window. In February, Dr. John Hayward published an account of the reign of Henry IV. The dedication to Essex implied that this history might provide a pattern "both for private direction and for affairs of state" (Dutton 120). The Queen and her advisers saw in Hayward's description of the deposition of Richard II, and his dedication to Essex, a thinly-veiled threat to the crown. In March 1599 the Order of the Bishops included the injunction that "noe English historyes be printed excepte they bee allowed by some of her maiesties privie Counsell" (Patterson 129). When Hayward tried to publish a second edition of his book in early April, all 1500 copies were seized and burnt. On 11 July Hayward was interrogated before the Privy Council. The vitriolic Queen "argued that Hayward was pretending to be the author in order to shield 'some more mischievous' person, and that he should be racked so that he might disclose the truth" (DNB on CD-ROM). Hayward avoided execution only through the intercession of Bacon (Dutton 121) and was imprisoned until after Essex's execution in 1601. Given the Hayward incident in the Spring, and the dismal news arriving from Ireland by June, it seems inconceivable that the Chamberlain's Men would have opened the Globe with a play containing (dangerous) verses comparing Essex to Henry V.
- As You Like It, with its sylvan setting and expropriation of the Globe's putative motto "All the world's a stage" (Totus mundus agit histrionem), has also been advanced as the new theater's first presentation. The play has been dated variously to 1599 and 1600 (Wells and Taylor 121; Latham xxvi-xxvii) based on a "blocking entry" in the Stationers' Register of 4 August 1600. The play may well have been written in 1599, but there are two perhaps insuperable obstacles to dating As You Like It as early as June. First, the part of Touchstone has long been thought to have been written for Robert Armin, who probably joined Shakespeare's company in March 1600 (Fleay 209, Baldwin 454). More persuasive perhaps is the longstanding interpretation of Celia's remark about "the little wit that fools have was silenced" (1.2.82-3) as an allusion to the burning of satirical books on 1 June 1599 (Fleay 208). If this allusion is correctly identified, it suggests a later date for the writing or revision of As You Like It than our putative date for the opening of the Globe.
- We know that Shakespeare's third play is believed to have been written in 1599: Julius Caesar was played on 21 September of that year. Though obscure to moderns who reckon time by the Gregorian calendar, the irony of this match of play and date was obvious to Elizabethans. September 21 was the "official" date of the Autumnal Equinox in England. But due to a flaw in the prevailing English Julian calendar this solar event had actually been observed on 13 September. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII had reformed the Catholic calendar and restored the Equinoxes to their traditional dates. But Elizabeth had rejected the Gregorian reform. By playing Julius Caesar on the vestigial English (incorrect) date of an equinox, the Lord Chamberlain's Men delivered a cheeky comment on Elizabeth's rejection of Gregory's reform. The irony could hardly have been overlooked by an English audience compelled to live and worship by the discredited Julian calendar.
- Platter's priceless information that Julius Caesar was played on the wrong date of one equinox raises an intriguing question: could Julius Caesar have been performed on the official or actual date of the other three principal solar events in 1599? Certainly Julius Caesar could have been recalled to the stage for the Winter Solstice on 12/22 December. But it is unlikely that construction of the Globe was complete by the Vernal Equinox on 11/21 March; in any case, the theaters were closed for Lent. Andrew Gurr concluded that even if the Globe "had a shorter building time because of its prefabricated timbers, it could hardly have opened much before midsummer" (Gurr, Henry V 6). Midsummer was the fourth principal solar event of 1599: the Summer Solstice, officially 22 June but actually observed on 12 June Julian.
- We can be confident that, like the acting company in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Globe sharers consulted an almanac for June several months prior to opening their new playhouse. John Orrell's deduction that the axis of the Globe was aimed at a point on the horizon roughly 48.7 degrees north of East appears confirmed by recent archaeological excavations of the Globe site (Orrell, Quest 152; Blatherwick and Gurr, Factory 315-333). This approximates the rising point of the Sun on the Summer Solstice, the northernmost rising of the year.
- Since the Globe construction commenced during winter, the sharers and builder must have consulted an almanac to determine this azimuth of sunrise. Had they done so, they could not have failed to notice that a relatively rare lunar-solar phenomenon was predicted: a New Moon on the Summer Solstice. The last crescent of the waning moon would be visible on Sunday 10 June Julian. The first crescent of the waxing moon would appear on 14 June Julian. The three intervening nights would be moonless. The precise moment of the New Moon occurred at 12:53pm on 12 June Julian. We think of the Solstice as the beginning of Summer. But Elizabethans called it Midsummer Day. Since the Globe sharers had determined to aim the axis of their playhouse at the rising point of the Sun on 12 June 1599 Julian, they could hardly have been unaware of these lunar and solar events.
- A New Moon on the Summer Solstice had important astrological connotations. New Moon was the proverbial time for moving to a new house, planting crops, and initiating ventures (Thomas 352). While it is difficult to assess the attitude of Shakespeare and his colleagues to astrology, the fin de siecle years of the sixteenth century were a time of heightened superstition, and actors were and are notoriously superstitious. Consulting with astrologers was the "done thing" by English people with the means to do so, and Sir Keith Thomas writes that "Scarcely any new venture was undertaken without an astrologer's pronouncement" (Thomas 372). Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, Protector Somerset, Burghley, and Essex regularly consulted astrologers (with varying success). The Earl of Leicester had engaged John Dee to select the date of Queen Elizabeth's coronation (Thomas 343). Because of the national penchant for astrology, English almanacs provided phases of the moon and other celestial information. Printed Ephemerides supplied positions of the Sun, Moon, and known planets throughout the year. In Shakespeare's England only the Bible enjoyed larger press runs than these almanacs. Below, we will examine the astrological auspices for 12 June 1599. But first let us consider a mundane lunar phenomenon of critical importance to impresarios opening a riverside playhouse.
- Since the time of the New Moon's transit of the Meridian on 12 June was known, the Thames tides could be predicted with precision. High tide occurred at London Bridge at 1:34pm. A fraction of a mile further upstream at Southwark strand, the tide crested circa 2pm. The Rose (1587) and Swan (1595) were long-established, and it is likely that their audience's habits of transportation were too. Many spectators--and most well-to-do patrons--crossed the Thames by boat (Gurr Playgoing 34). The status of the tide was a familiar consideration, and of paramount importance to the fastidious. Arrival at high tide promised a pleasant stroll to the theaters. At low tide, acres of evil-smelling Thames muck would be uncovered. Since 3000 spectators might attend a single performance, many would have timed their arrival well before "curtain." A tide cresting circa 2pm would have been ideal.
- The importance of the timing of the tides on 12 June 1599 Julian was heightened by another solar-lunar phenomenon which occurred on this date. While this event was not forecast in everyday almanacs, Shakespeare or his colleagues could have learned of it by consulting a printed Ephemerides. From these tables, they could have determined that on 12 June Julian the Sun would begin its transit of the Meridian at 12:02pm, only ten minutes later than the Moon. An interval of ten minutes between the transits of the Sun and Moon indicated the two were in close conjunction. Shakespeare was certainly familiar with the astrological significance of conjunction. In 2 Henry I V young Hal observes Falstaff paddling with Doll Tearsheet, jokes (accurately) about the unlikeliness of a conjunction between Saturn and Venus in the year, and refers Poins to the almanac (2.4.265-6). An Ephemerides would have revealed to the Globe sharers that a conjunction of the Sun and Moon would occur on 12 June Julian 1599. At 5:02pm the Sun and Moon would be separated by only 2.665 degrees. At that moment Sun, Moon, and Earth would momentarily achieve near-perfect alignment, a phenomenon known as syzygy.
- Syzygy had both practical and metaphysical connotations. As a practical matter, a close conjunction of Sun and Moon exaggerated the amplitude of the tides. Tides of heightened amplitude are known as "spring" tides since they appear to "spring up" and then recede at an unusually rapid pace. Had Shakespeare and Company consulted an astronomer or mariner, they could have learned that a particularly high tide could be expected circa 2pm on 12 June. Elizabethans were also aware that a tide which crested circa 2pm would recede to its low ebb shortly after 8pm. Spectators departing after a Globe performance on 12 June 1599 could expect to encounter an exceptionally low tide and the malodorous mud of the Thames.
- The lunar-solar phenomena associated with the Summer Solstice of 1599 made 12 June a particularly propitious day for moving to a new house and initiating new ventures. To determine other astrological considerations on this date, I queried American astrologer Kramer Wetzel. According to Wetzel, had Shakespeare and his colleagues asked an Elizabethan astrologer to cast a chart for 12 June, a number of propitious auspices would have been apparent. A conspicuous and favorable stellium (collocation) of five "planets" (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn) gathered in the constellation Gemini beginning at 3:40pm. Gemini rules during the period 21 May -21 June. Of its twinned stars Castor and Pollux, the former favors intelligence, voyages, and sudden success in legal and editorial matters. The latter imparts an elusive, audacious character, with a fondness for gossip. A stellium of five planets in Gemini would have made 12 June an extremely auspicious day for embarking on any new endeavor concerned with communication or foreign travel. Mars was in the tropical Zodiac sign of Taurus. Since Mars is identified with energy and Taurus rules the second house of the Zodiac, this alignment is associated with positive earning potential. After 3:15pm the Moon was conjunct with the Sun for several hours, passing through syzygy at 5:02pm. Since the Moon is considered the ruler of Cancer, this further enhances the powerful positive effect of the New Moon on start-up ventures. On the evening of 12 June Julian the Sun set at 8:25pm. After sunset, Venus and Jupiter would appear brightly conjunct in the evening sky, a very opportune alignment. Jupiter is the "Lucky Star," and Venus looks after Beauty.
- In assessing this data our modern skepticism toward astrology is irrelevant. In Shakespeare's time astrology "was not a coterie doctrine, but an essential aspect of the intellectual framework in which men were educated" (Thomas 338). The vast majority of Elizabethans believed that celestial events influenced earthly life for good or evil. Schoenbaum believed that Shakespeare was born on 23 April but not Christened until 26 April because "superstition intervened--people considered Saint Mark's Day [25 April] unlucky. "Black Crosses" it was called; the crosses and altars were almost to Shakespeare's day hung with black, and (some reported) the spectral company of those destined to die that year stalked the churchyard" (Schoenbaum 25). Shakespeare may have taken a dose of superstition with his mother's milk.
Julius Caesar and the English Calendar Controversy in 1598-9
- Although C.F.E. Spurgeon fails to identify a pattern of imagery in Julius Caesar, time is the subject of Shakespeare's story (Spurgeon 346). Only four plays in the canon contain more references to time. Because of the simmering dispute surrounding the discredited English Julian calendar, Julius Caesar's association with time and the calendar was a controversial and highly topical subject in 1599.
- Caesar had imposed his Julian calendar by decree on 1 January 45 B.C.E. It succeeded a faulty Roman Republican calendar (reformed 153 B.C.E.) which was lunar-based and ten days short. When a calendar is too short or too long, the date on which the Equinoxes and Solstices occur will vary from year to year, and the seasons will gradually drift away from their proper months. Caesar's calendar was designed by the Alexandrian mathematician Sisogenes who calculated the length of the year as 365.25 days. To account for the odd 0.25 day, a "bissextile" day was intercalated following 24 February in every fourth year. Unfortunately, Sisogenes erred. He overestimated the length of the solar tropical year, which is actually 365.2422 days. This error of 11 minutes and 14 seconds was undetectable in the life span of the average Roman, but accumulated to a full day every 128 years. By the time the Council of Nicaea met in 325 C.E., the error had accumulated to three days, and the Vernal Equinox had regressed from 24 to 21 March. This confounded the dating of Easter (Church Companion 86-7).  Since their mathematicians could not solve this conundrum, the Nicaean fathers formulated a new rule: Easter would be observed on the Sunday following the first Full Moon after 21 March, which was declared the "official" date of the Vernal Equinox.
- Although the Nicaean Council's decree conformed the observance of Easter, it did not address the inherent slippage in Caesar's calendar. By the time the Venerable Bede correctly estimated Sisogenes' error in 730 C.E., the actual date of the Vernal Equinox had advanced to 18 March. This continuing regression led to the bizarre medieval practice of designating one Sunday Pascha verum (true Easter) and another Pascha usitatum (observed Easter). Understandably, this provoked controversy within the church. In an effort to remedy the problem, in 1472 Pope Sixtus IV engaged the German mathematician Johann Müller to prepare a reformation of the Julian calendar. But the issue was factious and explosive; Müller was assassinated in 1476 and plans for reform were abandoned. Almost a hundred years later, Pius V summoned mathematicians to Rome to study the problem. He died before they submitted their recommendations. It fell to Pius' successor, Gregory XIII, to complete the work and promulgate a new calendar in Shakespeare's time.
- The Papal Bull which Gregory signed on 24 February 1582 clashed with a number of English traditions. Gregory ordered the start of the civil year set at 1 January, which contradicted the English practice of dating the new year from 25 March. He restored the equinoxes by advancing his calendar ten days; the day after 4 October 1582 was declared October 15th.  This left the English Julian calendar ten days behind. Gregory also decreed that only centennial years divisible by 400 would be Leap Years. This would leave England another day behind after 1700. Gregory's bull cast Elizabeth on the horns of a dilemma. The three consecrated documents of her English church were the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and that invisible finger turning the pages of both, the Julian calendar (Hassel 7). Elizabethan Bibles and versions of the Book of Common Prayer included a calendar in their first pages (Hassel 8). These were often printed with the red ink reserved for the words of Christ because the calendar was revelatory. Its orderly succession of lunar and solar-based holy days "revealed a profound logic of resonances and connections. The meaning of these may escape the modern mind but their ancient significance was perfectly familiar" to Elizabethans (Laroque 202). "In the liturgy and in the celebrations which were its central movements people found the key to the meaning and purpose of their lives" (Duffy 11). We think of our modern secular calendar as fiscal, academic, or simply chronological. But the Elizabethan calendar year was the church year (Hassel 8).
- Not one to be left ten days behind by the whole world, Elizabeth determined to impose an English reform. She urged Archbishop Edward Grindal to approve a new calendar without delay. But Grindal refused. Reforming the calendar would require a revision of the Book of Common Prayer, which could be moved only by Parliament, certainly not by the Antichrist Bishop of Rome. Grindal's price for accepting reform was an ecumenical review by the English church "in concert with our bretheren overseas." That was a price Elizabeth could not and would not pay. Allowing Grindal to confer with an international convocation would effectively repeal the Act of Appeals (Collinson 270-1). Outflanked, Elizabeth determined to persevere with Caesar's old calendar. With her decision England became a national anachronism. But the question of an English calendar reform did not, nor could not, die. The inexorable anticipation of the equinoxes made the calendar controversy and, oddly enough, Julius Caesar himself, grist for the pulp publishers of England.
- Writers of popular almanacs hastened to supply explanations of the calendar controversy and stir the pot for English calendar reform. In these ubiquitous pocketbooks, Englishmen could read a surprisingly detailed history of Julius Caesar and his calendar. To cite one example among many, in his almanac for 1584, John Harvey recalled how the ancient Romans "a long tyme to have laboured, and paynefully travayled in searchyng out the direct course and true space of the yeere" (Harvey Biir). Perhaps with a glance at Sir Thomas North's recent edition of Plutarch's Lives (1579), Harvey explains that Numa Pompilius revised the primitive calendar of Romulus and began the evolution of the lunar-based Roman Republican calendar. Harvey records how Caesar recruited Sisogenes to create a new solar-based calendar, which "this most puissaunt Captayne, and learned Astronomicall Emperour" imposed "in the .45. yeere before the happy byrth of our Saviour CHRIST" (Harvey Biir). Harvey describes Sisogenes' error and closes his literate and scholarly treatise by inviting readers who wish to investigate Caesar's calendar further to "have recourse to Suetonius in vita Caesaris Augustus, to the fyrst booke of Macrobius Saturnalia, or to an Epistle of S. Iherome directed ad Eustochium . . . which are all copious in this argument" (Harvey Biiiv). This bibliographical reference suggests a popular appetite for more information about the roots of the calendar controversy.
- A more explicit appeal for an English calendar reform appears in the 1586 almanac of William Farmer, whose narrative approaches apologia for the Gregorian model. These undertones are unmistakable in Farmer's discussion of the variations between the Pascha verum and the Pascha usitatum. He provides a table which demonstrates that the dates of the true and observed Easters fell on the same Sunday in only fifteen of the preceding thirty-two years. Of the remaining seventeen years, eight varied by one week, five by four weeks, and four by five weeks. Farmer felt that a reform of the English calendar was indispensable and overdue. Equally apparent are his circumspection and deference to his theological and astronomical superiors:
Thus have I after rude and simple maner, made manifest the chiefe causes of this late Alteration [the Gregorian calendar]: but whether there be any necessitie that we should do lyke or not, I referre that to the judgement of the reverent Divines, and learned Astronomers, who are sufficiently able to determine that cause: The one, in respect of conscience, the other in respect of the communitie of Computation (W. Farmer C2r).
In the face of Elizabeth's rejection of Gregory's calendar, reform was not an issue upon which any writer would wish to appear outspoken. But the fact that popular almanacs continued to rehearse the history of the rival calendars year after year suggests that the subject was deliberated over time by a broad spectrum of the literate population. Most intriguing with regard to our interest in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the ubiquitous almanacs promulgated the story of Caesar's calendar, and Sisogenes' error, among lettered Elizabethans.
- Then in 1598 a phenomenon occurred which brought the English calendar controversy to a head. That year saw the most extreme variation (five weeks) between the Protestant and Catholic Easter and the other movable feasts. In 1599, a pamphleteer described widespread confusion and frustration:
In the yeare of our Lord 1598 lately by past, according to the decree of the Nicene Councell, and late Kalendar, set out by [the Italian mathematician] Lilius, Easter day, fell upon the twelft daie of March, in the olde Kalendare and Almancks, whereby we yet reckon in England and Scotland: And Whit Sunday upon the last daye of Aprill: And Fastings even, upon the twenty foure of Ianuary: Whereas after the vulgare maner and count, Easter daie was celebrate that yeare, the sixteeth daie of Aprill, Whit Sunday, the fourth of Iune: And Fastings even, the last of February. Yee see the distance betweene the one calculation and the other, is more then the space of a Moneth: what errour it may growe to by the proces of time, it is easie by this example to perceive (Pont 61).
The publication of this pamphlet is precisely contemporary with Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Both documents pinpoint the historical moment when the English calendar controversy reached its zenith, a moment of perplexing uncertainty when "the most basic category by which men order their experience [time] seemed subject to arbitrary political manipulation" (Burckhardt 6). Stubbornly celebrating Easter on the wrong day--when everyone knew it was the wrong day--had turned the English Protestant Easter services of 1598 into a theater of the absurd. Imagine yourself a devout Christian in an English church on 16 April 1598, reciting the anthem "Christ is risen," hearing the Gospelist's tale of Christ's haunting whisper to Magdalene, "Marie," all the while knowing that the true Easter had passed, ignored, on 12 March. Gregory's newfangled calendar may have been Catholic, but it was correct. To an English Christian, being compelled to worship by Caesar's calendar--a calendar repudiated by the whole world--was not merely absurd; it was degrading, humiliating, scandalous, mortifying. It was tyranny. Those who wonder why Shakespeare chose 1599 to write his play about the man who imposed the Julian calendar perhaps need seek no further.
The Holy Day Discordances of 1599
- We have rehearsed as much about roots and causes of the Elizabethan calendar controversy as the average lettered Londoner might have known in 1599. Even so, it is difficult for a twentieth-century mind to grasp the oppressive day-to-day experience of living--and worshipping--by a scientifically discredited Julian calendar. In the winter of 1598-9 the English Protestant holy year had dissolved into a series of jangling discordances. On Midwinter's Day, 21 December 1598, Elizabethan Protestants observed the Feast of Saint Thomas. But they knew that the rest of Europe and their Catholic recusant neighbors had already celebrated Christmas, Saint Stephen's Day, and Holy Innocents, and were preparing to see in the New Year that very night. By the time Elizabethan Protestants were ready to welcome 1 January 1598, the Twelve Days of Christmas were long-gone for their Catholic friends, who were already dating their correspondence 1599. As Elizabethans prepared their billets-doux on the Eve of Saint Valentine, 1598, the Catholic Europe was celebrating Shrove Tuesday 1599. And while Elizabethans were exchanging Valentine greetings the rest of the world was gravely observing Ash Wednesday and the onset of Lent. Even Julius Caesar's anniversaries were muddled: on the English Ides of March, 1598, the Catholic world was observing the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary 1599. Worse, the Elizabethan date of the Annunciation fell on the Catholic Palm Sunday. Worst of all, imagine the bitter jokes and angry recriminations when Elizabethan Protestants realized that the true Easter, 11 April Gregorian, fell on the date all England observed as April Fool's Day.
- A glance into any one of the dual Julian-Gregorian almanacs for 1599 reveals a rich series of holy day discordances during the period in mid-June which includes our putative opening date of Shakespeare's Globe.
St. Antony of Padua
Vigil Nat. John Baptist
Nativity John Baptist
On the Monday which was both 11 June Julian and 21 June Gregorian, English Protestants observed the Feast of Saint Barnabas while Catholics held no holy day. Tuesday 12/22 June was the Solstice, no feast day for Protestants but the Gregorian Midsummer Day. Wednesday 13/23 June was the Protestant Feast of Saint Antony of Padua, while Catholics observed the Vigil of the Nativity of John Baptist. On Thursday 14/24 June Catholics celebrated the Nativity of John Baptist while Protestants observed no holy day. Let us turn to the text of Julius Caesar to determine whether allusions to these holy days, dates, and related phenomena can be identified.
11 June: The "Cynicke" Poet and Saint Barnabas
- In Julius Caesar 4.2, Brutus and Cassius engage in a rambling argument about tactics, money, and love. As the wrangle climaxes, a "Poet" barges into Brutus' tent, and a scene begins which scholars have long found inscrutable:
Poet. Let me go in to see the Generals,
There is some grudge betweene 'em, 'tis not meete
They be alone.
Lucil. You shall not come to them.
Poet. Nothing but death shall stay me.
Cas. How now? What's the matter?
Poet. For shame you Generals; what do you meane?
Love, and be Friends, as two such men should bee,
For I have seene more yeeres I'me sure then yee.
Cas. Ha, ha, how wildely doth this Cynicke rime?
Bru. Get you hence sirra: Sawcy fellow, hence.
Cas. Beare with him Brutus, 'tis his fashion.
Bru. Ile know his humor, when he knowes his time:
What should the Warres do with the these Jigging Fooles?
Cas. Away, away be gone. Exit Poet (2109-24)
Shakespeare found this anecdote in Plutarch, who describes how one Marcus Phaonius "despite of the doorekeepers, came into the chamber, and with a certaine scoffing & mocking gesture which he counterfeated of purpose, he rehearsed the verses which old Nestor sayd in Homer":
My Lords, I pray you harken both to mee,
For I have seene moe yeares than suchye three. Cassius fel a laughing at him: but Brutus thrust him out of the chamber, & called him a dogge, and counterfeate Cynick (North 1071).
Shakespeare made a number of alterations to Plutarch's incident. His stage direction designates Phaonius "a Poet" and it is Cassius who identifies the man as a "Cynicke." The Globe audience could hear the interloper was a rhymester. But how does Cassius recognize him as a "Cynicke," and how could this epithet makes sense to an audience most of whom had not read Plutarch? To deepen the mystery, Shakespeare rewrites Phaonius' verses. Plutarch's man quoted Homer: "My Lords, I pray you harken both to mee, For I have seene moe yeares than suchye three." Shakespeare alters his Plutarchan source, and inserts the command "Love, and be Friends." This is doubly puzzling; Shakespeare (and many members of his audience) certainly knew a cynic was one who "disbelieves in the sincerity or goodness of human actions" (OED on CD-ROM, cynic, a. and n. 2).
- If it wasn't an aural clue which identified the intruder as a "Cynicke" to Shakespeare's Cassius and the Globe audience, perhaps the clue was visual. Elizabethans familiar with classical literature would have know the "Cynickes" were itinerant evangelicals who preached contempt for worldly goods, including apparel. There is a formidable mass of scholarship detailing the similarities between the "Cynickes" and early Christians who were taught: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat: neither for your bodie, what ye shall put on" (Lk 12:22).  Like the "Cynickes," early Christian evangelicals dressed simply, wandered and preached, "living off what others provided, inveighing against wealth, reprimanding hypocrisy, and expecting trouble for their pains" (Downing 2).
- Shakespeare's device becomes transparent when we relate his Poet's doggerel verses to the holy days of mid-June 1599. Saint Barnabas' Day was observed on 11 June, the day immediately prior to our putative opening of the Globe. In the Book of Common Prayer, the Gospel reading for 11 June was John 15:12-17:
This is my commandement, that ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I commande you.
These things commande I you, that ye love one another (John 15:12, 14, 17).
This injunction is of enormous importance in Christian doctrine. Christ gave His disciples many tenets. He taught with many parables. But He gave the world only one commandment. Strictly speaking, "Love, and be Friends" is not a commandment; it is the commandment. When Shakespeare's Poet barges in and commands "Love, and be Friends," the playwright is not rewriting Plutarch and Homer. He is rewriting Jesus Christ. And an Elizabethan audience would have known it. To underscore his mischief, Shakespeare injected a cue which Elizabethans could not have overlooked, though scholars have. When Brutus grows angry at the Poet, Cassius chides: "Beare with him Brutus, 'tis his fashion." Brutus grumbles, "Ile know his humor, when he knowes his time: What should the Warres do with these Jigging Fooles?" (2120-3). Modern editors interpret "Jigging" as "alluding to the light, rapid, jerky dance called a jig" (Humphreys 202n). This is not correct. "Jig" was an Elizabethan byword for doggerel versions of the Psalms (OED on CD-ROM, jig, n.3). That is the sense of "jig" which Brutus employs to scorn the Poet's doggerel version of the Gospel for Saint Barnabas' Day. A character dressed as a "Cynicke" who bursts onto the stage and jigs a doggerel of John 15 on 12 June Julian would have startled a Globe audience who had heard these verses preached on the previous day.
12 June, Midsummer Day: "Is this a Holiday?"
- Julius Caesar opens with a confrontation between two Tribunes and a band of impertinent plebeians. Tribune Flavius challenges the merrymakers: "Hence: home, you idle Creatures, get you home: Is this a Holiday?" (5-6). One can see the irony, the humor, and the magic if these words were spoken from the Globe stage on Tuesday 12 June 1599. Queen Elizabeth's official Midsummer Day would not arrive for more than a week, but adherents of Caesar and his calendar have turned out in their best attire--both on-stage and in the audience--paying homage to the Solstice by turning a workday into a holiday. London's Midsummer's festival was a day of picnics, games, bonfires, and revels. On Midsummer Night, the watch would be augmented by bands of beery citizens marching the boundaries with torches (Hutton 39). The torch-bearing, crude vigilantes who catechize and kill Cinna-the-Poet in Julius Caesar 3.3 would have been instantly recognizable to a Globe audience on 12 June 1599.
- Flavius condemns the Roman revellers as "idle Creatures." "Idle" was indistinguishable from its homonym, "idol"--that is, "pagan, idolatrous" (OED on CD-ROM, idol, n.1). The epithet is equally appropriate to the onstage mob and to the playhouse packed with Elizabethans who follow Caesar's calendar. Mahood recognized that when Shakespeare employs "clownish quibbles such as those in the opening scene of Julius Caesar they tune up the audience's responsiveness to words" (Mahood 28). The tuned-up ears of the Globe audience might have detected another wordplay: although the Elizabethan pronunciation of "holiday" was indistinguishable from "holy day," the Folio text discriminates them. Flavius demands, "Is this a Holiday?" (6). Thirty lines later "Holiday" becomes "Holy-day" as the Cobler declares, "But indeede Sir, we make Holy-day to see Caesar, and to rejoyce in his Triumph" (36-7). Twenty lines later Murellus falls captive to the Cobler's idiom when he blusters, "And do you now cull out a Holyday?" (56). Although it is commonplace to dismiss these variations as compositional accidents, the Folio text of Julius Caesar is the most error-free of all Folio plays. Dover Wilson judged that "there can be no doubt at all that the 'copy' for Julius Caesar presented Jaggard's compositors with an unusually easy task. The verse-lining--a good touchstone for the quality of a manuscript play--has gone astray in a few instances, but they are very few, almost negligible . . . " (Wilson, Facsimile Fol. 4r). It is possible Shakespeare intended to discriminate between "Holiday" and "Holy-day", and the context appears to support this view. The Cobler is arguing that men can meddle with the calendar. They can even sanctify a day and make it holy. The English calendar controversy had made it irritatingly clear to Elizabethans that this was so. Murellus replies:
O you hard hearts, you cruell men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey . . .?
. . . And when you saw his Chariot but appeare,
Haue you not made an Vniversall shout,
That Tyber trembled vnderneath her bankes
. . .
And do you now cull out a Holyday?
[For one who] comes in Triumph over Pompeyes blood?
Runne to your houses, fall vpon your knees,
Pray to the Gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this Ingratitude. (43-62)
Murellus' hard hearts, God, plagues, chariots, and trembling waters call to mind the Book of Exodus (Rose 257). Shakespeare drew these unmistakable cue-words from Exodus Chapters 4-14, verses which include Moses' imposition of a new calendar: "And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you" (Exodus 12:1-2). Elizabethans knew Moses was a calendar-giver. Thanks to the English calendar controversy and the almanacs, they knew Julius Caesar had imposed a calendar. Jesus Christ had proclaimed to the stunned ears of the Nazareth congregation that He had come to alter the calendar:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
This is Luke 4:16-19, the prescribed Gospel reading for 20 June 1599 Julian. English recusant Catholics would have read it on 10 June Julian, two days before the opening of the Globe.
13 June: Saint Antony's Day in the Foro Romano
- If the Globe opened on 12 June 1599, 13 June was its second day. The thirteenth was the Ides of June, and Caesar dies on an Ides, during the second day of dramatic time in Shakespeare's play. June 13 was also the Feast of Saint Antony of Padua, who had been canonized only a year after his death in 1232, and remained a popular saint in Shakespeare's time (D.H. Farmer Saints 27). A gifted debater and preacher, Saint Antony attracted crowds of as many as 30,000 "and spoke in the market-places instead of the churches". Shakespeare rewrites Plutarch so that his Antony regales a throng from a "Pulpit" in the "Market place" on the Ides:
Judgement! thou are fled to brutish Beasts,
And Men have lost their Reason. Beare with me,
My heart is in the Coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pawse, till it come back to me. (1641-4)
"Brutish Beasts" conjures an image of preaching to animals which is amplified by "Beare" [bear] and "pawse" [paws]. Saint Antony was renowned for preaching to beasts. He once persuaded a horse to venerate the New Testament. Shakespeare's Antony calls Caesar's will "this Testament" (1667). His plebeians cry to hear "The Will, the Testament" (1691). Antony claims he found Caesar's will "in his Closset" (1666). Saint Antony was frequently invoked as a finder of lost articles. Miraculously, Saint Antony's tongue survived intact after thirty years' burial, and Shakespeare's Antony vows to "put a Tongue / In every Wound of Caesar" (1765-6). There is only one mention of a bear in the New Testament. It comes in Revelation 13 and describes the enemy of Christianity as a monster with "feete [paws] like a beares". The thirteenth of June, coupled with Saint Antony's reputation for preaching fire-and-brimstone, apparently drew Shakespeare to Chapter 13 of the apocalyptic Book. Shakespeare's Antony repeatedly borrows from Revelation 13. His famous "lend me your eares" may be a cue to Revelation 13:9: "If any man have an eare, let him heare." Shakespeare knew Marc Antony's funeral oration ruined the republic and led to the creation of the Roman Empire. Elizabethans believed the Gospelist John had described these very events, and warned Christians against their consequences, in the mystical verses of Revelation 13. The lengthy Geneva gloss draws a parallel between the enmity of the Roman Empire toward the early church, and the malice of the popish establishment toward the Reformed English Church (Geneva Bible, Fol. Ppp4r). Protestant theologians of Shakespeare's day routinely associated the Antichrist and the Pope with the Caesars,
especially in the several Elizabethan commentaries on Revelation, which regarded Caesar as the founder of the universal empire later inherited by the popes. "In his worldly power and magnificence and in his claim to supreme authority as pontifex maximus . . . Caesar and not Saint Peter was actually the first pope" (Kaula 202).
This is why Revelation 13 was alive in Shakespeare's mind. Marc Antony had laid the foundation of the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church with his funeral oration over the body of Caesar forty-four years before the birth of Christ.
- For decades scholars have recognized that Shakespeare intentionally laced his Antony's diction with Scriptural allusions (Shaheen 88). Now, by recognizing that Shakespeare's borrowings are systematically drawn from Biblical readings prescribed for specific dates in the liturgical calendar, we may discern the playwright's design. For example, Antony characterizes his relationship with the dead Caesar, declaring, "He was my Friend, faithfull, and just to me" (1622). Although this phrase sounds homely and mild to secular modern ears, the first Epistle of John cites precisely these reasons why Christ forgives men their sins: "If we acknowledge our sinnes, he is faithfull and just, to forgive us our sinnes, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousnesse" (1 John 1:9). This passage of Scripture was absolutely indispensable to the Elizabethans' doctrine of salvation. The Geneva gloss cites these words emphatically as the sine qua non of salvation: "So then our salvation hangeth upon the free promise of God, who because he is faithful and just, will performe that which he hath promised" (Fol. Ooo3v). The liturgy prescribed the reading of this passage of 1 John 1 for Saint John Baptist's Day, 24 June, the date of the Summer Solstice in Julius Caesar's calendar of 45 B.C. E. In the Gregorian calendar for 1599, 24 June concorded with 14 June Julian, the second day after the opening of Shakespeare's Globe.
- From the foregoing examples, for the first time we can determine certain rubrics of Shakespeare's compositional method in Julius Caesar. As Shakespeare writes a scene he infuses the diction of the speakers with cues to passages of Scripture prescribed for a specific day by the liturgical calendar and Book of Common Prayer. By correlating the Scriptural passage with Shakespeare's text an auditor (or reader) gains insight into the playwright's view of the action or the speaker. For example, Antony's statement "Octavius, Listen great things" (1896-7) mimics Revelation 13:5, and may identify Antony with "a mouth that spake great things & blasphemies."
- Shakespeare employs this compositional method widely in Julius Caesar. The scene in Brutus' orchard on the eve of the Ides of March 44 B.C.E. (II.i.) is infused with the diction of 1 Thessalonians 5, the prescribed Epistle for evening prayer on the Ides of March 1599. Shakespeare again employs this method when he creates the ahistorical gathering of the conspirators at Caesar's house on the morning of the Ides. Caesar says, "Good Friends go in, and taste some wine with me / And we (like Friends) will straight way go together" (1125-6). Shakespeare certainly knew that only Decius Brutus came to at Caesar's house on that fateful morning (North 793) and that Suetonius praised Caesar for abstemiousness: "That he was a most sparie drinker of wine, his very enemies would never denie" (Holland 22). Scholars have long pondered the off-stage spectacle of Caesar taking wine with those who betrayed him--a motif intriguingly reminiscent of The Last Supper. However, there is another instance in the New Testament of Christ tasting wine with His adherents. It comes in the second chapter of John's Gospel and begins, "And the third day there was a marriage in Cana . . . and both Jesus was called, and his disciples" (John 2:1-2). This well-known, well-loved passage of the New Testament describes the first of Christ's miracles, turning the water into wine. John goes on to describe the delight "when the governor of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine" (John 2:9). John 2 was the Gospel reading for morning prayer on the Ides of March 1599.
- Our new insight into Shakespeare's compositional method may finally explain the bizarre choice of Ate as the companion for Caesar's revenging spirit. Over Caesar's body Antony has a prophetic vision of "Caesars Spirit ranging for Revenge, With Ate by his side, come hot from Hell" (1498-9). The she-demon brought her victims to ruin by blinding men to the difference between right and wrong, and between "advantageous and disadvantageous courses of action" (Howatson 69). In Acts IV and V, Antony's prophecy is strikingly realized. At Sardis, Brutus' complains of "the weaknesse of mine eyes"(2290). As the armies collide at Philippi, Brutus has a fatal vision:
Let them set on at once: for I perceive
But cold demeanor in Octavio's wing;
And sudden push gives them the overthrow:
Ride, ride, Messala, let them all come downe. (2474-7)
Brutus' misperception and ill-timed order loses the battle. Meanwhile, in another part of the field Cassius despairs "My sight was ever thicke" (2501). His servant Pindarus' faulty vision of the capture of Titinius proves lethal to Cassius (2512ff). Shakespeare didn't find Ate in Plutarch, but may have fixed upon this personification of blind folly because of the liturgical calendar. The 69th Psalm declares: "Let their eyes be blinded that they see not" (69:24). The 69th Psalm was the prescribed reading for evening prayer on Saint Antony's Day, 13 June 1599 Julian.
- If the first play and opening day at Shakespeare's original Globe were not chosen at random, 12 June Julian 1599 is a very likely opening date for that theater, and Julius Caesar an attractive choice as the play purpose-written for the occasion. By opening their new theater with a play rife with allusions to the Elizabethan calendar controversy, Shakespeare and Company put their London public on notice that the Globe would be not only a place of entertainment, but a forum where simmering issues of the day would be interrogated. By infusing scenes in Julius Caesar with Scripture associated with significant dates Shakespeare devised a new mode of discourse with his audience. The debut of Julius Caesar proclaimed Shakespeare's Globe a theater of courage and ideas, a place where an audience must observe with the inner eye, listen with the inner ear.
- Recovering the identity of the opening day and premiere play at the original Bankside Globe should prove useful to historians and students of the theater. But the density of topical connections between the text of Julius Caesar, the Elizabethan calendar controversy, and the discovery of Shakespeare's systematic borrowing from Scripture, has broad implications for scholarship. Julius Caesar's bawdry-free tale of murder-and-revenge has introduced generations of school children to Shakespeare. The play has run through more editions, and more copies, than any play in any language. Unique among the Shakespeare canon, Julius Caesar has never been out of vogue, and has been continually recalled to the stage for 400 years. Along with Hamlet, it is Shakespeare's best-known work, a play for all times and for all audiences. But if the argument of the present essay is valid, Julius Caesar is an occasional play. To be fully apprehended its densely topical text must be read against a historical moment, the Julian calendar, the Elizabethan English liturgy, and even certain hydrological phenomena. It would have been well after 4pm on 12 June 1599 when Brutus declared his fatal decision to march to Philippi, saying, "There is a Tide in the affayres of men, Which taken at the Flood, leades on to Fortune On such a full Sea are we now a-float" (2217 21). When Brutus spoke those words on the afternoon of 12 June 1599 Julian, the first Globe audience knew the Thames was not at crest but well out, and Brutus' fortunes with it.
- On 8 January 1997 Buckingham Palace announced Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would attend the gala opening of London's newly reconstructed Globe on 12 June 1997. Whether through coincidence, prescience, or predestination, the Queen will open the new Globe on the 398th anniversary of the date of the first performance at Shakespeare's original. The correct day for the theater's anniversary is the Summer Solstice. The Globe organizers would do well to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the opening of Shakespeare's Globe--and the 400th anniversary of the world premiere of Julius Caesar--on 21 June 1999.
1. This would account for the lease being retrospective to December 1598.
2. Construction of the Fortune commenced upon the signing of the contract on 8 January 1600. Payments for delivery of timbers to the construction site began on 20 March and continued through 21 May. In the interim, preparation of the site for the theater went forward.
3. In fact, Henslowe makes no new entry until 6 October. The Admiral's Men are known to have travelled extensively during the latter half of 1599 (Gurr Companies 255).
4. The appearance of a new competitor on the Bankside is also supported by the drop in Henslowe's average receipts after 3 June 1599. During the period 15 April-3 June 1599, Henslowe's takings averaged 9£11 15s. Over the same weeks in 1600, the average drops to 9£5 18s, a decline of more than 50%. Again, this decline in revenue could be the result of various factors singly or in combination. But the fact that Henslowe's receipts decline precipitously after 3 June 1599 and never recover implies a significant change in the business environment on the Bankside.
5. Merchant also contains a master-leaving servant and an eloping daughter, both associated with leap years, which perhaps suggests the play was first written, or revised, in 1596.
6. For example: Gabriel Friend, Prognostication for 1616, etc. "It is good to plant or graffe generally, the Moone increasing . . ." (Fol.C2r). And, conversely: "Doung Ground to prevent the growing of Weedes, the Moone decreasing" (Fol. C2v). The OED provides two citations, the first dating to A.D. 1200: "O er [to think] newe mone betere an 'ld-mone in to newe huse te w'nden" (Vices&Virtues 1200, 27). "Believe the new moon better than an old moon to move into a new house." Also: "Sow Wheat and Rie about the New Moon" (Riders British Merlin, October 1682).
7. The earliest extant printed almanac in English was produced by De Worde in 1498. STC lists the imprints of more than 200 printers who produced almanacs, plus another 100 anonymous publications.
8. According to an analysis prepared for the author in 1996 by Dr. B.S. McCartney of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Merseyside.
9. Determined by the author using Redshift 2 astronomical modelling software © Maris Multimedia 1995.
10. While the metaphysical connotations of syzygy are beyond the scope of this essay, it may suffice to note that the conjunction is associated with the Gnostic concept of "dualism," i.e. of good and evil, of God and the Devil, and of the dual human and divine natures of Christ. This line of inquiry may be relevant to Shakespeare's play about a man who became a god only a generation before the birth of Jesus Christ.
11. "There is no leading or floating image in the play; one feels it was not written under the particular stress of emotion or excitement which gives rise to a dominating image" (Spurgeon. 346). Marvin Spevack perceived that a "dominant concern in the play is time" (Spevack 19ff).
12. Based on a count of the following vocabulary: time(s)(ly), hour(s)(ly), minute(s), day(s), month(s)(ly), year(s), (to)night(s)(ly), weeks(s)(ly), (to)morrow, morn(ing), afternoon, evening, holiday(s), feast, clock, sundial, season(s). The plays which exceed Julius Caesar are Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, 1 Henry IV, and Hamlet.
13. Early Christians of Asia Minor and Judea (many of them converted Jews) had routinely observed the feast of Christ's resurrection, Easter Day, on the Jewish Passover (14 Nisan). But as Christianity spread west to Europe and engrossed gentile communities unfamiliar with the Passover ritual and complex Jewish calendar (lunar-based and eleven days short), a system for dating Easter by the Julian calendar emerged in the Western Church. These Christianized pagans "kept their Easter upon the Sunday following the Jewish Passover, partly the more to honour the day, and partly to distinguish between Jews and Christians. These latter pleaded themselves the Apostolical Tradition" (Anon., Church Companion, 87). This practice made the determination of Easter dependent on the date of the Passover, which was itself reckoned by the Paschal Moon.
14. Gregory's reform restored the calendar to the radix of the Council of Nicaea (C.E. 325), rather than to Caesar's original which would have required an adjustment of 12.86 days.
15. Cf. Hutton 5-48.
16. This correspondence is extant: British Library, MS. Add. 32092, fols. 26-33.
17. Not all Shakespeare's contemporaries were content to suffer Elizabeth's autocracy in silence. An entry in the Journals of the House of Lords records that a bill to reform the calendar came up for two readings in 1584/5: "Item 1a vice lecta eft Billa, An Act giving Her Majesty Authority to alter and new make a Calendar, according to the Calendar used in other Countries." The bill was quashed.
18. By adjusting the calendar ten days to the radix of the Council of Nicaea instead of the full twelve or thirteen days to re-establish Caesar's old calendar, Pope Gregory had effectively moved Midsummer Day (the Summer Solstice) from 24 June to 22 June.
19. Mark Hunter accounted for Shakespeare's invention this way: "North's doggerel rendering [of Homer] doubtless suggested to Shakespeare the idea of making [Phaonius] not only a counterfeit Cynic, but a miserable rhymster" (Furness 215n).
20. Like Stoicism, Epicurianism, and Academic Skepticism, the Cynic philosophy (founded by Antisthenes ca. 445-365 B.C.E.) was an established school at the time of Caesar and Christ.
21. All Scripture citations are from The New Testament (London, 1599).
22. Shakespeare moves the murder of Cinna from day (North 795) to night in order to create this confrontation.
23. OED Holiday, n.2.a.: "A day on which ordinary occupations (of an individual or a community) are suspended; a day of exemption or cessation from work; a day of festivity, recreation, or amusement." Holy-day, n.: "A day consecrated or set apart for religious observance, usually in commemoration of some sacred person or event; a religious festival."
24. For an account and analysis of Caesar's comprehensive religious reform program see Weinstock 175ff.
25. Cf. Marlorate, Fol.113v: "For truely the Bishop of Rome matcheth the royall power . . . of Julius Caesar, boasting himselfe to be Lord of the world, and that the autoritie of both the swords belongeth unto him by commission from Christ."
26. Act II, scene I takes place after midnight on the Eve of the Ides of March. As Brutus enters pacing in his orchard, he is concerned about the time and date, and dispatches Lucius to check the calendar. Saint Paul warned the Thessalonians not to concern themselves about the time and date: "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). In a few moments the conspirators will arrive at Brutus' house like skulking thieves with anachronistic hats "pluckt about their Eares" and faces half-buried in cloaks (696-7). Before they do, Lucius re-enters carrying a letter (epistle). Brutus says, "The exhalations, whizzing in the ayre, Give so much light, that I may reade by them" (662-3). Paul tells the Thessalonians, "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness. Ye are all the children of light" (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5). Brutus says "Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar, I have not slept" (682-3). Paul warned the Thessalonians, "Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober" (1 Thessalonians 5:6). Brutus is determined that the assassination of Caesar be carried out with a sober demeanor: "Let not our lookes put on our purposes, But beare it as our Roman Actors do, With untyr'd Spirits, and formall Constancie" (862-4). Caesar's murder must not appear to be "Wrath in death, and envy afterward" (797). Paul wrote that "God hath not appointed us to wrath," and cautioned the Thessalonians to "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:8). The numerous linguistic connections between the scene in Brutus' orchard and Chapter 5 of Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians may be coincidental. On the other hand, 1 Thessalonians 5 was the reading for evening prayer on the Eve of the Ides of March.
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Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.
© 1997, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).
(JBL, JW, RGS, June 16, 1997)